Chapecoense: 'Some of the kids don't realize what happened,' says Tulio de Melo

    'We will keep the soul of Chapecoense'
    'We will keep the soul of Chapecoense'

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    'We will keep the soul of Chapecoense' 01:39

    Story highlights

    • Chapecoense set for new Brazilian soccer season
    • Club lost 19 players in plane crash in November

    (CNN)"Some of the kids, they don't realize yet what really happened," says Tulio de Melo.

    It is just one of the many heartbreaking strands attached to the tragic story of Brazilian football team Chapecoense.
      The club had been on its way to participate in the biggest game in its history -- the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final -- before the plane carrying them crashed in Colombia and killed all but six of the 77 people on board.
      Just three players survived. On Saturday, Chapecoense began its next phase having built a brand new team, of which Melo was one, when it played a friendly against Palmeiras.
      "It's difficult to see the wives and the kids," the 31-year-old told CNN, of the emotion he felt upon returning to the club he played for in 2015. "The kids they are waiting for their father to come back from a long trip with the club."
      Support from clubs both in Brazil and around the world was swift and sincere in the aftermath of the disaster with Barcelona and Real Madrid among those to pay tribute to the victims.
      And when the new season gets underway in Brazil, the team who fought its way up the leagues thanks to an unbreakable spirit will surely feel an added warmth from fans who reveled in its remarkable run in last season's Copa Sudamericana -- the second-biggest intercontinental club competition in South America.
      "We feel that support," Melo explained. "I'm pretty sure we're going to play at home in any game this season. Even the club's who will play against us, the supporters, they will respect us and if they lose against Chapecoense I think it will not be so bad.
      "I think Chapecoense is the second club of every supporter of football in the world."
      Chapecoense's rebirth in the face of tragedy
      Chapecoense's rebirth in the face of tragedy

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      Chapecoense's rebirth in the face of tragedy 02:23

      'I couldn't say no'

      Prior to its clash with Palmeiras, relatives of those killed and the three survivors took center stage.
      Goalkeeper Jackson Follman, who had a leg amputated after the crash, was presented with the Copa Sudamericana trophy awarded to them in the aftermath of the disaster by CONMEBOL, South American soccer's governing body.
      Also present was Hello Neto, a figurehead at the club long before the crash, and it was his invitation that convinced Melo to rejoin the club he left two years ago.
      "Neto inspires all the world," Melo said of the 31-year-old defender. "Before he was already a leader inside the dressing room, someone when he spoke everyone listened.
      "Now after everything to see how strong he is -- he is the strongest man I ever knew. It's really inspiring for us to have someone like him beside us. I'm pretty sure he will be back on the field soon."
      "I knew it would be hard," Melo said of returning to the club in the wake of its devastation. "I (thought) how would it be to come here and remember all my friends?
      "Neto sent a voice message from the hospital to me and he asked me to come back, said he needed me to help him reconstruct the club.
      "After that I couldn't say no to this invitation."

      Club's soul annd profile

      Chapecoense's rise resonated so widely with the football-loving public in Brazil because of the club's togetherness and spirit and the way its success had been achieved largely without star names.
      When Chapecoense began the mammoth task of rebuilding the club, its hierarchy resolved to recruit players with the same qualities as those it had lost.
      "The president and director, they chose every player who is here now," Melo explained.
      CNN open letter to Chapecoense and their fans
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      CNN open letter to Chapecoense and their fans 02:11
      "Many, many players were offered to Chapecoense, thousands -- even some stars -- but they chose to pick the good guys with the profile of the club to keep doing the history the same way it was doing before.
      "We will keep the soul and profile of this club."
      Chapecoense also rejected an offer of immunity from relegation for the next three seasons. Though its task is a sizable one, its special spirit will surely endure.
      "In football everything is possible but the team was rebuilt just now, 23 or 24 players arrive at the same time, its completely new in football," Melo said.
      "We have a lot of competitions this year, we can achieve to play 90 games this year. All we can do is our best for the club to honor the memory of our friends and their families and also the colors of the club."